Mental health counseling program at University Hawai‘i at Hilo expands

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Beginning Fall 2024, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo mental health counseling program will expand to admit 30 new students each year.

The expansion of the Master of Arts Program in Counseling Psychology, Specialization: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, will offer a new Certified Substance Abuse Counselor concentration. Funding for growth in the program was provided by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the Hawai‘i Department of Health and in partnership with the Hawai‘i County Mayor’s Office.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in mental health problems,” said Charmaine Higa-McMillan, director of the program. “According to the National Institutes of Health, 50% of Americans in 2021 reported having anxiety or depressive symptoms and 10% stated that their mental health needs were not being met. The need for mental health services in the County of Hawai‘i and across the state has increased significantly due to the opioid abuse epidemic.”

Dr. Bryan Kim, a professor in the program, explained that “an important benefit of adding the CSAC concentration is that students will be trained to treat both substance use disorders and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicidality.”


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 50% of persons suffering from substance addiction have a co-occurring mental health condition.

“In Hawai‘i, these mental health and substance use problems have posed challenges to our already strained mental health system,” Kim said. “The faculty and students at UH Hilo have been working hard to help address this problem.”

Established in 2005, the MA Program in Counseling Psychology provides multicultural, student-centered training with a specialization in clinical mental health counseling. The program’s curriculum meets the requirements for licensure as a Mental Health Counselor in Hawai‘i and is the only one of its kind in the UH System.


The program is nationally accredited and is offered to students throughout the state via distance education technology. The program has graduated over 200 mental health counselors and has a 90% graduation rate.

“Program alumni work in various mental health settings throughout the state, including the Departments of Education (in school-based behavioral health) and Health, non-profit agencies such as Big Island Substance Abuse Council, Care Hawaii, Child and Family Service, and Hale Kipa, and in group and private practice,” Higa-McMillan said.

“The mental health counseling program at UH Hilo is in an ideal position to help address the rising mental health and substance abuse problems in our state,” she added. “We are excited about our partnership with ADAD and the Mayor’s Office that will enable us to bring real and tangible benefits to our communities.”


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